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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Humiliation of a Working-Class Student in a Prestigious College or University

     Authors Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, along with a team of researchers helping them produce a book that came out in 2014 called Paying For The Party: How College Maintains Inequality, embedded themselves in a freshman dormitory at an unnamed high-profile midwestern state school. The authors and their researchers kept up with a group of female students through college.

     While according to the conventional wisdom that higher education is a form of upward mobility that is an economic and social equalizer, the authors of this book found otherwise. They believe that a college education from a prestigious, expensive school rewards upper-middle class and rich students while treating their working-class counterparts more cruelly, often leaving these students isolated and adrift.

     The inequality manifests itself in the campus party/sorority scene referred to by the authors as the "Party Pathway" through the university experience. Many kids from well-to-do families select a college or university because of its rich party/social environment. (So, when a university is labeled "a party school," that's good for recruiters.)

     Rich kids, while not necessarily academically prepared for college, get accepted into these expensive schools because the institutions need their parents' money. Many of these less than academically gifted students navigate the university experience by taking bonehead majors like speech communication, criminal justice, elementary education, broadcasting, and women's studies. They don't learn anything useful, but they get their degrees, have a good time, and establish important social relationships. Because their families have connections, they also acquire good jobs.

     The poorer, more academically prepared students struggle to afford sorority fees, clothing costs, spring break trips, and bar tabs. These students are referred to by the rich kids as "wannabes." Students who can't keep up socially end up humiliated and unhappy. According to the authors of Paying For The Party, the most successful working-class students end up transferring to less prestigious, expensive institutions where they are happier and get a better education.
   

     

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